Plan ahead to get the most out of conference networking and educational opportunities. Everyone, including road warrior exhibitors, can benefit from some extra forethought. Motivated attendees can gain something from every conference no matter what the agenda.
Why are You Going?
Answer this question before you even register. Identify your greatest job challenges and/or areas of interest. Plan to attend the sessions that will likely benefit you the most. Review the conference program in advance, if available. If the reason you are going is “my boss told me I have to go,” this leads to the next point.
What are Your Employer’s Expectations?
Be clear about this before you go to avoid disappointing your management team when you return. Will you need to provide:
- a summary of your conference experience?
- possible solutions for a problem or new initiative?
- exhibitor information and any related materials?
- business cards from certain organizations?
Also, what are their expectations about your connectivity to the office while away? Ideally, since they are paying for you to attend, they will encourage you to not be distracted by email.
Plan for Effective Networking
Sometimes it can be awkward to mingle and network, especially when you do not know anyone, so have some questions ready. Keep your job challenges and interests in mind. Conversation starters include:
- Do you have a solution for _____?
- Do you know anyone who could help with ____?
- What did you think of the keynote speaker?
- Did you attend ______ session? I really liked the tip about _______. Have you tried that?
Resist the urge to keep your phone in hand. For all the good mobile devices have done, they are a crutch when it comes to networking.
A Conference is What You Make of It
As attendees, we cannot control the conference agenda, speakers, venue, food, etc., but we can control our response to these elements, even when something is not ideal for us. Each attendee has the opportunity to:
- acquire actionable tips
- gain new industry knowledge
- share expertise to help others
- be inspired
- make meaningful professional connections
Take full advantage while there. After all, how often can we do all these things within the span of a few days in the office?
If a certain round of breakout sessions does not include anything directly related to your goals, consider other options. Attend a session on a topic you know nothing about to learn something new. Go have coffee with a new connection. Visit exhibit booths if applicable. As a last resort, use that hour to catch up on email, so you can focus on the conference the rest of the day.
Two Tips from Others
From Scott Belsky, 5 Tips for Making the Most of a Conference: Distill every talk down to one key takeaway. After each presentation, ask yourself what struck you, what did you learn? What is worth additional consideration upon your return to real life?
From Bill Lampton, Ph.D., Top 10 Tips for Attending a Conference: Become an active participant, asking questions and making comments. The topics will take on new life for you.
Nothing beats preparation, but also be flexible once you are onsite. You might be presented with a great opportunity that was not in your original plans. I’m looking forward to attending the NAPCP conference next week in San Antonio. It will be the first time since 2003 that I simply attend, versus work at, the conference. I hope to see you there!
About the Author
Blog post author Lynn Larson, CPCP, is the founder of Recharged Education. With more than 15 years of Commercial Card experience, her mission is to make industry education readily accessible to all. Learn more…